37 agencies get All of Government tick, but two big omissions and design additions raise concerns

Over the past year or so, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has been on a mission to assemble a panel of trusted advertising agencies, just as it has done with a range of other suppliers. After a bit of a delay, it released the longlist in February. And now the final list has been released, with 37 agencies in the mix. But not everyone’s happy with the end result, or the process used to create it.

There will always be winners and losers in situations like this. And most of the big boys are on the list (see below for the full panel), but two agencies are particularly conspicuous by their absence: TBWA\, which works with Tourism New Zealand, and M&C Saatchi, which works with the Fire Service and the Police. It’s not clear whether the two agencies simply didn’t make it through, or didn’t apply (TBWA\’s chief executive Todd McLeay couldn’t be contacted and M&C Saatchi’s Dave King had no comment). But it’s thought discussions are taking place to include them. 

Some agency heads on the list also made mention of the fact that four design agencies made it through, even though standalone design services, “for example, designing a new brand logo”, were out of scope (as were standalone print services, standalone public relation services and standalone market research). As such, there is concern over the ability of some of the agencies included to do major government work.

Perhaps as a result of these concerns, all 37 agencies chosen received an email from the All of Government Centre of Expertise last week:

“We’re writing to let you know that, following feedback from recent debriefs and interactions with Eligible Agencies, the Centre of Expertise is reviewing the AoG Advertising panel’s coverage to ensure it meets government needs. Rest assured, your place on the panel is secure. We’ll let you know as soon as we can if there is a change to the panel resulting from the review that may affect you. Any such change is likely to be positive—for example, it might be that some panel agencies are appointed to further sub-categories or that additional agencies are brought on to the panel.”

How adding more agencies to the list will be positive for those already on it is unclear. And as one agency head summed up succinctly: “What the fuck?”

CAANZ has been working closely with the MBIE through the process, but chief executive Paul Head had no comment to make on the list. And Grant Lyons, the manager of collaborative process at MBIE, was unable to be contacted.

The MBIE’s digital dream team of 42 providers was named late last year (interestingly, M&C Saatchi was on that list). Add that to the 37 (or more) in the advertising services panel, and that seems like a lot to choose from. But there is a lot of work to be done, with agencies set to be used for all government activity, from central departments to local councils to the likes of NZ Lotteries. 

It’s thought all the major government departments have been mandated to use agencies on the panel. If they’re not with an accepted agency already, departments must make the change in 12 months or at the end of their existing contracts. But the further away from central government you go, it’s thought the less influence—and control—this panel will have, so it seems as though it may be possible for agencies not on the list to be able to continue working with those clients. 

If that’s the case, it’s not surprising that many on the list are wondering what the point of this whole exercise was. It’s clear from a government perspective, however. It is an attempt to create more efficiencies across departments and reduce the $60 million spent on the purchase of advertising and media services in New Zealand in 2011. The MBIE was open about the fact that cost was a major determinant in its final decision. Agencies were initially asked to provide an hourly rate in the first round and were selected based on qualitative factors, such as experience in public sector work or a proven heritage in big brand work leading to behaviourial change. They were then asked for their ‘best and final offers’ at the long list stage and, according to this document, the MBIE anticipates it will save ten percent of its total advertising bill through this process (the hourly rates of each agency are commercially sensitive and only available to participating government agencies). 

While no-one likes being pressured into dropping their pants, it could have been worse as it’s thought the All of Government programme to choose legal and recruitment partners involved an online tender and reverse auction that published the fees other providers were willing to pay and drove the price down. 

The panel of providers are:

.99 Enterprises

Mission Hall Design Group

Adcorp New Zealand

Ocean Design Group

Assignment Group

Ogilvy & Mather New Zealand

Barnes, Catmur and Friends

OMD New Zealand

Capiche Design

Proximity Wellington

Clemenger BBDO

Rapport Advertising and Marketing

Colenso BBDO

Saatchi & Saatchi


Samdog Design

Crestani Communications

Spark PHD

DDB New Zealand

Special Group


Starcom New Zealand

GSL Network

Strategy Design & Advertising


String Theory

Ikon Communications

The Media Dept


Total Media

Insight Consultants



Work Communications and Work Media submitting as Work Consortium


Y & R




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